Movies Till Dawn: Excitement in Black and White!

The Three Musketeers” (1921, Undercrank Productions) is an appropriately energetic showcase for the physical skills and screen presence of its star and producer, Douglas Fairbanks. Though 38 at the time of filming, and somewhat past the sell-by date to play a juvenile lead, Fairbanks has the right degree of youthful carriage and attitude to play aspiring swordsman D’Artgnan, who aids the Musketeers (French actor Leon Bary, George Siegmann and a slim Eugene Pallette, decades away from playing portly, gravel-voiced grumps in “The Lady Eve” and “My Man Godfrey”) in defeating a scheme by Cardinal Richelieu (the cadaverous Nigel de Brulier, who played the role in three additional films) to unseat Queen Anne (Mary McLaren). Fred Niblo, who helmed Fairbanks’ previous action effort, “The Mask of Zorro” (1920), handles both the swashbuckling scenes and court intrigue elements with equal skill, and provides the actor with some terrific action set pieces, including one eye-popping sequence in which Fairbanks dispatches an opponent in mid-air while executing a backflip. Undercrank’s disc, billed as a 95th anniversary edition, reproduces the color tinting featured in the original release, as well as an appropriately heroic new score by DVD producer Ben Model.

And for those who prefer their excitement with a distinct flavor of End Times (and aren’t getting it from the nightly news), they can soak in the apocalyptic destruction that befalls the entire world in “Deluge” (1933, Kino Lorber). The plot, adapted loosely from British author S. Fowler Knight’s 1928 novel, imagines a series of global earthquakes that spawn a tidal wave which wipes clean the United States, beginning with the West Coast and eventually demolishing most of the major East Coast cities, including New York. A handful of survivors eventually find their way to each other, including Sidney Blackmer, who pines for his lost wife and children; championship swimmer Peggy Shannon, and backwoods goons Fred Kohler and Ralf Harolde, who decide that they should drive the whole repopulate-the-earth effort, with Peggy as their unwilling baby factory. The flooding of New York is the highlight of the picture, and helped to set the template for a century of disaster films that followed (including “The Day After Tomorrow,” which it closely resembles). Unfortunately, the sequence, which takes place not long after the opening credits, is also the highlight of the picture; the subsequent human drama has its tense moments – there’s a showdown between Blackmer and Kohler at Bronson Canyon – but Production Code requirements blunt the social and moral quandaries imposed by the natural selection pair-ups between the sexes (a major part of Knight’s original novel), rendering the remaining 2/3rds of the film as standard issue survival fare. Aside from the special effects – handled, in part, by matte artist Russell Lawson (“Bride of Frankenstein”) and Ned Mann (“Things to Come”) – the most intriguing element about “Deluge” is its history, which is detailed as part of Richard Harland Smith’s informative and conversational audio commentary. Long considered lost (though pulled from circulation by its low-budget producer, which sought to earn revenue by loaning out the disaster footage to a slew of B pictures), the film went unseen until discovery in Italy by “Famous Monster of Filmland” editor Forrest J. Ackerman in 1981. Lobster Films found the original camera negative in 2016, and their remaster is the version included on this disc, along with a second feature, “Back Page” (1931), a vehicle for Peggy Shannon at the end of her tumultuous career. Studio pressure, a drinking problem and health issues upended her run at stardom, and she died of a heart attack at the age of 34 in her North Hollywood apartment in 1941.

 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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